About the Exhibition

The NCSU Libraries has gained statewide acclaim for providing quality programming on a wide variety of historical and cultural topics, attracting visitors from across the Research Triangle region. An upcoming traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian will be of particular interest to avocational gardeners as well as students and faculty in the field of horticultural science.

Feast Your Eyes: The Unexpected Beauty of Vegetable Gardens traces the visual appeal of vegetable gardens across centuries, continents, and cultures, from the floating gardens of the Aztecs and the highly manicured potagers of Louis XIV's Versailles to the emergence of World War II victory gardens in America. The exhibition will open at the D. H. Hill Library on February 4, 2006, remain on view through April 2, and then continue on a national tour through 2007.

Considered the Cinderella of the horticultural world, the vegetable garden has typically been outshone by the flashier gardens of her floral sisters. Centuries ago, vegetable gardens were the belles of the ball, designed to be both productive and pleasing to the eye. In the ensuing years, vegetable gardens were perceived as so unappealing that they had to be banished from the landscape. Today, vegetables gardens are making a startling comeback, seen as a source of not only food but also beauty. Some vegetables have even made the leap in becoming prized members of the flowerbed in their own right.

Susan J. Pennington, exhibition curator and former Enid A. Haupt Fellow in Horticulture at the Smithsonian, says, "Through time, artists and gardeners have both scorned and admired the appearance of vegetables; while at the same time, exotic vegetables, often considered inedible, took pride of place in flowerbeds. All these ups and downs in popularity make for an entertaining story and a chance to examine some of the great gardens in history."

Feast Your Eyes brings together images from the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Gardens (AAG), as well as images and documents from other museums and repositories, to chart the history of the vegetables' exclusion from ornamental gardens to their surprising comeback during the past twenty years. The exhibition concludes with "vegettes," whimsical tales of vegetables now popular in both public and private gardens.

A generously illustrated companion book by Pennington with over one hundred historical and contemporary photographs was published by the University of California Press in October 2002.

The exhibit was developed by the Smithsonian Institution Horticulture Services Division in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES).